Me, a Secret Agent?

Ragan Sutterfield
St. Michael’s, Little Rock
July 17, 2011
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Year A Proper 11
Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

Ignatius of Loyola was a soldier before he became a saint—a man of the royal court of Spain who understood some of the intrigue that could be a part of both political and martial life. So when he left life as a soldier after being hit by a cannon ball in order to follow Christ who saved him, he followed with many of the habits he developed as a servant of the king. In his classic Spiritual Exercises Ignatius asks us to imagine that we are subjects of a good and noble king. This king is going out to battle and calls on his subjects to join him to fight the king’s enemies. The king says, “Whoever wishes to come with me must be content to eat as I eat, drink as I drink, dress as I dress, etc. He must be also willing to work with me by day, and watch with me by night. He will then share with me in victory as he has shared in the toils.”

Ignatius then tells us to imagine that this king is Christ himself. Christ calls to us in Ignatius’s meditation, saying: “It is my will to conquer the whole world and all My enemies, and thus to enter into the glory of My father. Whoever wishes to come with Me must labor with Me, so that following Me in suffering, he may also follow Me in glory.”

I’ve thought a good deal about this meditation and my mind always tries to modernize it. I think of a good and wise president and myself as a secret agent (perhaps playing out some childhood fantasy). I am given missions that I don’t completely understand—tasks that I carry out because I trust the goodness of the one who is directing me to do them. From time to time I realize that there are others who are a part of the same conspiracy and they too have roles to play, we gather in our spy cells from time to time, but none of us see the grand picture of which we are a part. We are often living as foreigners, fitting in among the local populations, but we are not a part of them—we are on a mission, carrying out our part of a plan that is bigger than us for a person that we trust.

We learn in today’s readings that we are a part of such a divine conspiracy—agents of light in a world of darkness, children of God in the midst of evil and decay. Paul tells us, that “all creation waits in eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” With this revelation the world will be put to right—there will be no more mass graves of innocent people slaughtered, as were recently discovered in Sudan, there will be no more oil spills in the ocean, no more climate catastrophes, no more greed, no more taking the gifts of God and calling them ours alone.

We wait, ready for the call—ready to play our part in the grand conspiracy that is beyond us. And in this waiting we can begin to wonder…is this really a worthy cause? Is this really the way toward a victory of good over evil? Do we really overcome evil with good: by turning to other cheek, by answering hatred with love, do we really win by loving our enemies—even when they seem to be the very heart of darkness. We may be tempted to use power—military, intellectual, institutional, economic to coerce the end we know is good. We may begin to think that we heard the orders wrong and that we are really supposed to bring the kingdom to fruition on our own—God gave us this power, shouldn’t we use it?

But no, Jesus tells a parable pointing to another way. Wheat is planted and then the field is corrupted, weeds are thrown in their midst. You can hear the servants—“maybe we could burn the field and still get another planting in.” But no, the master says, we must allow the weeds to stay among the wheat until the harvest comes—it is the only way we can preserve the wheat from being uprooted along with the weeds. Jesus explains this parable to his disciples and tells them—the wheat represents the children of the kingdom and the weeds represent the children of the evil one—those overwhelmed by selfishness, pride and greed. The kingdom of God in other words must live among the kingdom of man—existing alongside it, sharing the same soil, receiving the same rain, the same fertilizer. The difference is their ends—weeds exist only for their own propagation, the selfish violence of “me” against and above all else, but wheat grows into a grain from which we can get life giving nourishment—it lives to be a gift, just as the kingdom of God exists first and foremost to be the gift of peace.
St. Augustine in his classic work, the City of God compared these two overlapping cities and showed that the city of man which for Augustine was represented by the Roman empire, was a city founded out of violence—Romulus killing Remus to gain power. This is the nature of the City of Man, Augustine says—always using violence and coercion as a means of achieving its goals and ends. But the city of God was formed from the harmonious and loving creation of the world—its default position is one of peace and love. These two cities exist side by side, sharing day to day the same resources, the same streets, the same economy—but the way we live and act within this world is profoundly different because our ends are profoundly different. For the City of God, we must live for and toward peace, which means that we must live without being drawn into the violence and coercion of the city of man. We maintain our identity only be suffering at the hands of violence as Jesus did, rather than by perpetrating it. We are not the ones who must pull out the weeds.

So if we can’t pull out the weeds, what are we to do? How should we exist as the city of God (which is founded and exists in peace) living in parallel with the city of man (which was founded and exists through a violent assertion of the will)?

Paul tells us at the end of our epistle reading that “we wait for it with patience.” We must wait with the Christ who wins through suffering death on a cross and we must join in His suffering by choosing to live in his kingdom even though the fullness of it has not yet been revealed. We must accept our role, follow his lead, take the missions he gives us and carry them out even if we don’t quite understand them—missions like loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, associating with those who have no status or power that we can gain advantage from. In this way we dig our roots deep, we become strong and distinctive as wheat among the tares—we bear fruit so that when the reapers come to gather, we will not be mistaken for a weed, but be seen clearly as a part of the life giving kingdom of peace.

To join this mission we must join with St. Ignatius of Loyola in praying:
“Eternal Lord of all things…it is my wish and desire, and my deliberate choice…to imitate you in bearing all injuries, all evils, and all poverty both physical and spiritual, if your most Sacred Majesty should will to choose me for such a [mission].”

Amen.